Driven Tesla Model S 85. The best-selling version of this iconic electric car, fully tested by us. We drive the best selling Model S 85 to find out if it is still as good as its more powerful siblings, even in a more average form. WORDS & PHOTOS: Jonathan Musk.
REVIEW: TESLA MODEL S 85 MAIN Standard 85 Model S still looks striking, although this one sports £3,800 21 ” alloys. Ouch!
MAIN From the rear, there are hints of Jaguar, which is no bad thing. No exhaust gives the only EV clue.
In the electric car world, Tesla are king of the road. Their Model S offers exceptional pace, space, refinement, luxury, gadgets and the oft-considered all important range. 250 miles to a single charge means that the Model S is actually a usable car much like a common petrol or diesel. Yes, the average petrol or diesel travels further on one tank but it won’t replenish its range overnight while you’re asleep at home. Nor can it be refilled for free along many major routes across Europe. These arguments and many more are chief amongst the reasons why the Model S has gained a worldwide reputation. It’s a superior offering to most other electric cars currently on the market, although that does come at a price naturally. When Model S first came to market, there were four iterations; 60, 85, P85 and P85+. In order, these represented the base model with an artificially reduced battery capacity of 60kWh battery, the 85kWh battery model and the performance and performance plus models that offered near 4.0 second 0-62mph times. It was an impressive rear wheel drive only line up and one that would serve the company well, establishing the P85+ as one of the hottest cars on the road. Many videos ensued as to its accelerative prowess against far more expensive exotica that were embarrassed by a fast saloon car – particularly one that didn’t run on fuel or make much shouting about it either. Less than a year later, the Model S line up now reads as follows; 70, 70D, 85, 85D, 90, 90D, P85D, P90D. It’s a fairly convoluted stable but one that can easily be deciphered with the knowledge that the number refers to the battery capacity, the ‘D’ to Dual motor (a.k.a. all-wheel drive) and the P for Performance. While the original P85+ ventured into supercar sports car territory with its 4.1 second 0-62mph time, the P85D achieves the same sprint in a mere 3.1 seconds. I tried it in Amsterdam and it was terrifying, let alone insane as the company themselves jokingly and seriously call it. Incredibly, the new P90D bests this and adds ‘Ludicrous’ mode to the mix with an astounding 0-62mph time of just 2.8 seconds. Some have criticised the Model S for being an expensive car and it is true that it isn’t cheap, with the basic 70 model starting at £45,800 after the UK PICG has been applied. However, to put this into perspective, the Model S can be compared to cars costing three times this amount; such is its performance and interior accommodation. The P90D’s performance too, makes it something of a bargain since the only other things on the road that come near to its accelerative tour-de-force are cars like the million pound Ferrari LaFerrari, near million pound McLaren P1 and rather pricey Porsche 918 Spyder. It’s hypercar territory and that’s something to be amazed by. In less than a year, Tesla have pushed their five door hatchback from sports car rivalling performance to hypercar embarrassing speed, all the while offering seven seats and plenty of space. It’s this fact that rightly captures the imagination of worldwide media and public alike.
The bestselling Model S is the 85. It’s a rear wheel drive car, which Tesla refer to as a ‘single motor’. Likewise, a conventional petrol or diesel powered car would generally have a single power unit to drive either front, rear or all four wheels. In the case of a front-engine rear-wheel drive car, a driveshaft leads to a differential and then half shafts before any energy actually reaches a wheel. The result is that there is a substantial amount of energy lost in transmission and when a wheel slips, there is a delay before any sensors can relay the information to the relatively slow responding power unit. In the Tesla, the motor provides near direct power to the wheels as it is located between them. This means the reaction time is substantially quicker than the conventionally powered car’s, as is the electric motor’s ability to react. In effect, the Tesla is proof that an electric powertrain is more capable than an internal combustion driven setup, which despite more than 100 years of development, still struggles to get power to each wheel. We’ve become accustomed to the delay and lag in cars, so much so that we simply accept the unhurried nature of releasing a clutch gently while giving the engine a few extra revs for more power in order to move away from standstill. Driving the Tesla – or any electric car – shows that the alternative is far superior. Roundabouts and junctions are pulled away from more safely, thanks to the near instant torque delivery the electric motor provides.
Regardless of these fundamental differences between the powertrains, and back on topic, the Tesla is a remarkable car. It is worth reiterating the 85 model on test for this review is an awkward ‘average phenomenal’, if that makes sense. That means it is still very special. No matter how it is driven, the car feels at ease with any given situation. Driving it like a saint, with little to no accelerative force simply means you can travel further on the energy stored in the batteries, rather than the car feeling like it needs to be driven fast. Put pedal to the metal and the Tesla instantly whines into action and pushes you further into its comfortable seats. It is fantastically versatile and rewarding to drive. 0-62mph takes just 5.4 seconds, which is certainly quick enough for UK roads and is still faster than most other cars on the road. It isn’t excessive either and so although it feels fast, it doesn’t feel out of control. Annoyingly, despite having driven seven Tesla Model S in total, I am yet to test one without the Smart Air Suspension (£2,100) so don’t know what it would be like on regular coil springs, but the added cost option certainly makes for a cossetting ride without being soft. It is a very well thought out setup and despite even the best effort of Hertfordshire’s pot-holed lanes wasn’t enough to phase the car although it did throw up something else about the Tesla. It is very wide. At 1.963 metres wide, it is a full 61 mm wider than a BMW 7-Series or 32mm wider than a Porsche Panamera. It’s a significant machine and our UK average car parking space is made to feel inadequate and small. It is a consideration many won’t think twice about, but will quickly discover the hard way. Our test car was fitted with the very lovely but ever-so-slightly Hot Wheels 21” grey ‘Turbine’ alloys that cost an eye watering £3,800, yet several already had kerb damage. If in America the Tesla is size L, here in the UK it’s an XXXL.
This extra-large size does come with benefits, however, including cavernous storage space in both the conventional rear boot and front-trunk, more affectionately known as the ‘frunk’. It’s a huge credit to Tesla that they were not tempted to fill these voids with unnecessary computers or other extraneous components. Instead, when opening all the doors, frunk and boot, it is hard to envisage where any of the mechanical workings actually are. It is as though Houdini had an input in designing the car; it is that well packaged. Impressive though the internal size may be, the interior is chronically lacking in cubby holes and stowage compartments. There are none in the doors, none in the centre and none in the rear, leaving the glovebox as the only place to hide items away. There is a token oddments bin just below the massive 17-inch all-dominating touchscreen but with no closure it seemingly has the ability to eject items from it whenever the driver has a heavy right foot. Aside from these two locations, in-between the driver and passenger is the arm rest stand, which houses a pair of cup-holders that serve as additional storage when not being used for their intended purpose. There is also a flat tray on the floor of the car with two-inch sides, but this lacks any compartments and any items placed there are likely to fly about the cabin. Two USB ports offer device charging, but there is nowhere to put them once plugged in, aside from either the cup holders or large flat tray. This has nearly
cost me a new mobile phone on several occasions and it would not have been too costly for Tesla to install a small compartment where the USB ports are situated, particularly given the asking price of the car. However, the lack of small storage does mean the cabin has a distinctly airy ambiance, free of clutter and mess. It’s very Zen and you soon forgive this small annoyance and creatively adapt using a jumper, for example, to hold things in place.
Elsewhere in the cabin, there is little of note. Seats are more comfortable in newer models than they used to be and offer better support, particularly noticeable when cornering at any speed. In all, the Model S 85 is certainly still the flawless everyday car that it always purported to be. It benefits from access to Tesla’s Supercharger network too, meaning longer journeys can be accomplished with ease and crucially for free. While driving our test car, I drove from Hertfordshire to Gloucestershire twice, due to attending the Royal Air Tattoo and visiting a small airfield near Stroud for our Electroflight feature. Both times, the route planned was similar, with only the last part of the journey entailing different directions. However, although almost exactly 100 miles for each journey or 200 miles return – well within the range capability of the 85 – but taking advantage of the Supercharger network for some free juice proved too tempting to pass up. For the first return journey I stopped off at a Supercharger near Reading, which was fine but travelling the M4 was a deviation away from the preferred and optimal route home. For the second occasion, a new Supercharger dot appeared on our map just outside Oxford at some services that I had actually gone past in the morning and that definitely wasn’t there then. This meant travelling home on this occasion was possible via our preferred route and no deviation was necessary. I arrived at a shiny new Supercharger station that looked like the paint was still wet. Tesla’s expansion in the UK of their rapid charge network has been slow for a certain legal dispute with another firm that has already created a network. This has now been resolved and Tesla is finally able to push ahead with the roll out of new charging locations, the Oxford example chief amongst them. For our 85 test car, and for many other Tesla owners around the country, it means travelling long distances isn’t a chore any longer, but instead is an absolute pleasure. Stopping off at a Supercharger and stretching your legs without having to hold a nozzle to the car is a joy to experience and makes the non-electric gas- guzzlers look pitifully stupid while they stand like teapots at the pump… and then have to pay for the privilege. Yes, they may spend a little less time while at the petrol station, but the Tesla has the last laugh. If you asked the average motorist what they would prefer; to spend five minutes at a pump but pay for it, or have it for free but wait half an hour, I’m pretty certain what the response would be. Waiting for the car to charge is often seen as dead time, which is absolute nonsense. Instead, it gives time to check emails if you’re that way inclined or to chat to other Tesla drivers who are also charging – they’re a friendly bunch and somehow ownership of a Tesla introduces you to a whole new exclusive club. It’s not particularly elitist either, despite the cars relatively high asking price.
In all, the Model S 85 is a fantastic car. It might not be the flagship P90D, but it is more than capable in its own right. Frankly, a well-equipped version of the 85 is a somewhat pointless exercise, although the options are genuinely desirable and mostly worthwhile. Alternatively, it would be better to go for one of the more performance oriented cars that can still be driven sedately without penalty. For example, our test car with all its options cost more than the P85D with no options and that is a little ‘insane’. That said, the standard 85 model is fantastically easy to live with and there’s good reason why it is the best seller and likely to remain so for a while. The Tesla was awarded our coveted Luxury Saloon Car of the Year award from a mixed group of plug-in hybrids and deservedly so. It is a standout car that will likely stand the test of time and be regarded as a trend setting future classic.
Driving one now makes you feel like you’re living in the future already. The significant range means you’re never anxious about it and in the real world, it isn’t often you drive much further than the official 310 or more likely 250 mile range output anyway. For those occasions that you do, Tesla have the answer with their Superchargers and they enable any Model S owner to travel for free around most of the civilised world. That’s a huge statement and one that the fledgling company can be proud of. Remembering that the Model S is in many ways Tesla’s first proper attempt at a car too, makes it all the more exciting. If they can produce this as their first attempt, just imagine how special what’s coming up next will be.
OPPOSITE & THIS PAGE Interior is comfortable and lacking for nothing even in this relatively standard 85. Extras include black leather seats (£1,500) and carbon-fibre decor (£850). Sleek coupe lines and retracted door handles hint towards the luxury of this car. Plenty of legroom in the rear but seats are quite low to the floor. Optional rear facing seats (£2,500) make it a true 7-seater, but only for kids.
Specification 2015 Tesla Model S 85
Engine Electric motor
Power (comb.) 373 bhp
Torque (comb.) 325 Nm
Max Speed 140 mph
0-62 mph 5.4 secs
EV Range 310 miles
EV Battery 85 kWh Li-ion
CO2 Emissions 0 g/km
Weight (kerb) 2,108 kg
Price (inc. PICG) £59,000
Price (as tested) £76,780